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Volume 23 No. 13
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Companies would be wise to begin, or build on, mentoring efforts

As we celebrate the 2019 class of Game Changers, we look for the future classes the same way we often look for future athletes in sports: through their coaches. The readers of SBJ are the coaches of future stars of the industry.  We need you to mentor the next generation of leaders, whether by starting a formal mentoring program at your company, through an industry program, or something as simple as inviting a junior employee to coffee.

The Game Changers issue focuses on both women in the business of sports and the business of women’s sports. We know that their success, as well as the success of our business, is dependent on mentoring. We know both from personal experience and literature on research that having mentors and champions is a key to professional success for all groups, and it can be particularly critical for women who may not otherwise have access to the same social networks as their male counterparts. Research has also shown that peer mentoring is a significant resource for leveraging opportunity in women’s career success. As Harvard Business Review has detailed, mentors and champions can significantly affect career trajectory for women through helping strategize, connect and give opportunities.   

Unfortunately, statistics around mentorship of women are getting worse. In a recent study by LeanIn.org and Survey Monkey, 60% of male managers are uncomfortable mentoring or otherwise working with women. We believe there is an opportunity to reverse that trend and improve mentoring by both men and women of younger employees, male or female. Otherwise, significant lost opportunity will have negative long-term effects. Having been matched at the 2018 Game Changers conference in the CSM Mentoring Challenge, we wanted to share a few pieces of advice for companies, mentors, and mentees that apply for men and women. 

Create Mentoring Programs and a Mentoring Culture 

If your company has a mentoring program, participate. If it does not, look for industry mentoring programs, start a program at your company, or start informal mentoring relationships. From the mentee’s perspective, this may look like asking those you admire in the company if you could take them to lunch or coffee to ask them about their career path and what their daily work looks like. For potential mentors, creating a culture of mentorship means having a coaching focus in the way you lead your employees, saying yes when junior employees ask you for time, being cognizant of whether there are imbalances in who is asking you or who you are giving time to, and halting gossip when you hear it. 

On this last point, this means when you hear someone infer that men supporting women must have ulterior motives, you create an open dialogue on why the person is making that statement and help them explore the impact of their statement, while remaining firm that gossip is counter to your office culture.

Set Expectations 

Setting expectations along two spectrums leads to the most productive mentoring relationships. If you are setting up a program at your company, take the time to formalize this process. First, set expectations regarding goals. Mentees need to understand that a mentor is not a therapist and is not there to intervene or solve problems on their behalf.  Second, set expectations regarding time commitment (when and where meetings will take place, duration of the meeting and the program) and who will conduct the scheduling.

Mentees, Not Mini-Me’s

Sometimes we seek a mentor who does exactly what we think we want to do. One of the most fun parts of our mentoring relationship was working in different geographic areas, sports and business areas. In fact, what mentoring expert and author David Clutterbuck refers to as “diversity mentoring” (mentoring relationships in which each party is different from the other) has a positive impact not only on the mentor and mentee, but also on the company.  

Prepare and Question

For mentees: Understand what you are looking to accomplish, do your research and be prepared with questions prior to a conversation with your mentor that do not have simple yes or no answers. Enable your mentor to tell you a story of how she/he navigated an issue; it will be beneficial in the immediate sense of how you handle that situation and reassuring that someone you admire has been there and not only done that, but succeeded too.

Mentors need to focus even more than mentees on asking questions. The easiest trap to fall into as a mentor is to start giving advice instead of asking your mentee questions to help them find answers on their own. 

There is nothing more rewarding than watching your mentee succeed, so enjoy the process.

At last year’s Sports Business Journal Game Changers conference, San Francisco 49ers Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Hannah Gordon and New York Racing Associating Digital Marketing Manager Emily Miller were paired for the CSM Mentoring Challenge in partnership with SBJ.

Questions about OPED guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at jkyler@sportsbusinessjournal.com